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Can Twins close deal with Guardado?

MINNEAPOLIS -- All-Star closer Eddie Guardado is one of four
free agents the Minnesota Twins are interested in bringing back,
perhaps the only one they'll be able to afford.

Guardado's agent, however, indicated Friday afternoon that
signing his client will be a challenge for the tightly budgeted
Twins.

"They'd like to sign Eddie back, but I'm not sure how," Kevin
Kohler said. "I don't see much chance."

Minnesota general manager Terry Ryan is working with a payroll
of about $56 million that will remain static at the behest of owner
Carl Pohlad. Aside from Guardado, the contracts for setup man
LaTroy Hawkins, left fielder Shannon Stewart and starting pitcher
Kenny Rogers also are up. A few others are due raises through
existing multi-year contracts, and several more are eligible for
higher salaries in arbitration.

"It's not going to be an easy fall, and it's not going to be an
easy winter," said Ryan, who will attend the annual GM meetings in
Phoenix next week. "No doubt, we've got some talented free agents.
... I don't think there's anybody that's watched this team that
wouldn't like to have all four of them back. We'll just have to
see."

Since the World Series ended, a record 200-plus major league
players have filed for free agency. They're allowed to speak only
with their own teams about money until the market opens Monday,
when other clubs can begin offering contracts.

Kohler said he has had contact with about 10 teams, half of whom
he expects to seriously pursue Guardado as their closer. Kohler
said he's had one postseason conversation with the Twins, when
assistant general manager Wayne Krivsky called to tell him he
didn't get Cincinnati's GM job.

"The talk was more about the Reds situation than Eddie,"
Kohler said.

The Twins offered Guardado a $4 million extension for 2004 last
winter, but they took it off the table before he could respond.
After a second straight season of 40-plus saves, Guardado's price
has clearly risen.

"He'd still like to come back, but it would take a really solid
offer before Monday," Kohler said. "It wouldn't be anything that
he would've signed for last year."

Minnesota has a month to get something done. There's a Dec. 7
deadline for teams to offer salary arbitration to their former
players who became free agents. That's also the point after which
other teams can sign players without forfeiting draft picks.

"I know that Eddie wants to come back," Kohler said. "If
Eddie had told me, 'Don't talk to the Twins,' that's one thing. But
that's not the case at all. I think Eddie is really resigned to the
fact that the Twins are not going to be able to get it done."

Most people targeted Guardado, Hawkins and Stewart as the Twins'
top priorities, but Ryan made sure to include Rogers in that group.

Signed to a $2 million deal more than halfway through spring
training, Rogers went 13-8 with a 4.57 ERA in 2003.

"I want to make sure Kenny Rogers gets his dues," Ryan said.
"He certainly did everything you could've asked of him."

Also:

  • The Twins told utility infielders Chris Gomez and Denny Hocking, relievers Jesse Orosco and Mike Fetters and starting
    pitcher Rick Reed that they won't be bringing them back. All are
    free agents. Hocking, who debuted with Minnesota in 1993, was
    second in tenure on the team behind Guardado.

  • First baseman Doug Mientkiewicz, who had extensive surgery
    last month to repair damage in his wrist, said Friday he'll rest
    for three more weeks. "It's getting better," he said by phone.
    "I'm looking forward to playing healthy for once next season." In
    January, Mientkiewicz plans to return to the athletic training
    facility in Arizona where he worked out last offseason.

  • Ryan said he has not offered left-hander Johan Santana a
    multi-year contract. "I don't think we're quite that far down the
    road," he said.